400,000 children are given 'good behaviour' drug
Zac Goldsmith, one of David Cameron's key policy advisers, yesterday backed the Hold on to Childhood coverage in The Daily Telegraph and said he was worried at the ease with which doctors prescribed pills to tackle children's emotional upsets.
The multi-millionaire environmental campaigner said that a proper investigation would "almost certainly" reveal a link between pollutants in children's food and the surge in childhood depression and behavioural problems.
Mr Goldsmith, who is deputy chairman of the Conservatives' quality of life policy group and editor of the Ecologist, said it was up to the medical profession to find out why there had been a huge increase in the diagnosis of psychological disorders in children in recent years, and not just to "patch it up with drugs".
On Monday his magazine will publish a detailed report into the crisis of British childhood, echoing many of the themes of Hold on to Childhood, which was itself sparked by a letter from 110 children's experts, authors and doctors.
The Ecologist article, written by Rachel Ragg, a former Leeds University lecturer and mother of two, points out that almost 400,000 children were last year prescribed Ritalin, a drug almost unknown in Britain in the early 1990s.
It argues that this is symptomatic of a sudden and dangerous crisis facing our next generation. Mrs Ragg said: "Childhood is no longer childhood for the vast majority of children and I think this Government has been absolutely appalling to children.
"They have provided financial incentives to parents to go back to work, and pressurised them to send children to nurseries by implying that their children will be economically, academically and culturally disadvantaged if they aren't in a nursery by the age of two. In fact, all evidence suggests this is the reverse of the truth.
"It may very well be that ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] stems from a culture in which young children are stuck in nurseries listening to lectures about diversity when they should be out splashing in puddles and climbing trees."
Mr Goldsmith said yesterday: "The Telegraph's campaign to reclaim childhood for the next generation is one I wholly support.
"We've arrived at a point where childhood, and all things that go with it, are inconvenient, with the natural impulses of children increasingly diagnosed as inappropriate once they enter a nursery or school environment."
He added that he thought the NHS should stop relying on the diagnosis of conditions such as ADHD, which usually led to the prescription of drugs such as Ritalin.
"It's worrying that the medical establishment's default response to behavioural difficulties is to reach for pills. Something is obviously triggering an increase in their use and the first role of the health service should be to identify what that is.
"If a real investigation took place we'd almost certainly discover problems with the food children are eating. But we'd also have to confront the fact that despite unprecedented material wealth, children aren't thriving."
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